In Our Head

Musings, thoughts, experiences…

On Love January 21, 2009

Filed under: Old Folks — heidi @ 10:15 pm

My doctor’s waiting room is a busy, bustling place, a sort of grand central for a huge group of docs. It is generic and impersonal, with forgettable blue chairs and crumpled magazines. When there, I fixate on my Blackberry and let the world around me dissolve into background noise.

The other day was different. Forced by a waning battery to find other amusements, and too afraid of germs to touch anything, I sat back and took in my surroundings: a young woman tried to calm a crying infant; a man with long legs nodded off; two women whispered and laughed.

And then there was the elderly couple. A stooped man with white hair and a pronounced limp, he pushed a woman in a wheelchair toward my area of the waiting room. After securing the parking brake on her chair, he lowered himself into a seat beside her. Seconds later, the woman began to babble. While her face remained expressionless, her incoherent chatter grew in volume and urgency. Her distress was unmistakable.

The old man turned toward the woman and began stroking her cheek. He didn’t say anything, he just stroked, his palm brushing ever so gently over her pale skin. He gazed intently at her, never once looking away. She, in turn, stared ahead at some faraway spot – or perhaps she wasn’t seeing at all.

Gradually, the woman’s babbling subsided. Like a sated, content infant, she cooed and gurgled softly. And the man continued to stroke.

I had to force myself to look away, to give these people the privacy they deserved. But I desperately wanted to continue watching. The man’s simple gesture was the purest, most beautiful expression of love I’d ever witnessed. Two withered beings, though the capacity to think and reason had clearly left one of them, remained so powerfully connected as to transcend words.

When my name was called, I cast one last look at the man and woman, she cooing, he stroking. Their image stayed with me long after I’d left the doctor’s office. It is with me still.


The Gap January 20, 2009

What is your reaction to an adult with missing teeth?

It’s not positive, is it?

Homeless people, drug addicts and alcoholics, people who don’t practice appropriate self-care, people who smell bad, battered wives and barroom brawlers, people who are irresponsible and careless and on welfare – those are the ones who don’t have all their teeth.

Respectable, well-educated, hard-working, middle-class, normal people have full sets of teeth.  If some have been removed by a dentist, it doesn’t show because they have been neatly replaced by dentures or implants.

Recently my complacent assumptions, my tidy categorizations, were disturbed.  All bets are off now while I readjust my thinking.  I am missing a tooth.

About 25 years ago, I had some work done on my tooth #11.  That’s the third one on the upper left.  The procedure went smoothly and I thought no more about it – until a couple of months ago when, biting down on a piece of toast, I heard and felt a CRACK.  I tasted blood, spat out my toast, and began to investigate.  Tooth # 11 had broken off and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.  Examination of the evidence revealed that the internal parts of the tooth were mostly gone.  Apparently there is a phenomenon known as internal resorption that can do that.  Nobody knows why.

Once the bleeding stopped, I reached for the phone to call the dentist and arrange to have things taken care of at the dentist’s earliest convenience.  Just in time, I stopped.  I am unemployed and can’t afford to pay my dentist.  What to do?

I remembered that our county has a dental clinic for low-income residents.  That certainly includes me right now, so I called.  They do extractions.  Only extractions.  Got a problem?  Yank it out.  Medieval dentistry in the 21st century.  I didn’t think I needed an extraction since the tooth was already gone.  Thanks anyway.

What to do?  I got on the web.  Aha!  A charity clinic for low-income residents of my county.  Perfect.  According to their website, they offer quite a variety of services.  Feeling hopeful once again, I called.  They were very sorry, but their waiting list was over a year long and they weren’t accepting any new patients.

So here I am, having exhausted all available resources, with a gap in my smile and not a thing I can do about it, wondering what affect it will have on my job search.


The Great Carrot Caper January 17, 2009

Filed under: In the Kitchen — harriettnelson @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

The Great Carrot Caper

Unbelievable!  My grocery store was offering 11 3lb bags of carrots for $10.  Too good to pass up.  But what can I do with 33 pounds of carrots?  They store very well, but even so we wouldn’t eat them fast enough.  My freezer is already full.  Carrots dry well, and – aha! — carrots can beautifully.  So into the grocery cart went 33 pounds of carrots. I opted for curbside pick-up.  Getting them into the house took a while, but finally, there they were in all their orange glory, taking over my entire kitchen.  What had I done?  I certainly couldn’t fit them all into my refrigerator.  Fortunately, our house has an uninsulated mud room off the kitchen.  In the winter, we call it “the refrigerator annex.”  Soon this useful area was dominated by a mountain of carrots, all waiting expectantly to be processed.

My partner, on her return home, viewed the windfall rather dubiously, and adopted a cautious “wait and see” attitude.  That evening, I made a carrot cake.  Her opinion improved slightly.

Next morning, after feeding the menagerie, I cleared the decks in the kitchen.  A big canning project requires every square inch of counter space.  I stacked the boxes of jars, lids, and rings on the dining room table, which tilted slightly under the load.

Instructions for canning carrots:
Scrub, peel, scrub again.  Remove ends. Cut into uniform pieces.  Pack into quart jars.  Cover with boiling water, leaving one inch head room.  Seal jars and process 30 minutes at 10 lb pressure.

Here’s what it looked like.

7 quarts worth of carrot peels, with plenty more to go

7 quarts worth of carrot peels, with plenty more to go

7 quarts chopped and packed, ready for the boiling water

7 quarts chopped and packed, ready for the boiling water

First batch in the canner, ready to go.

First batch in the canner, ready to go.

First batch out of the canner

First batch out of the canner

The next project was to make a huge batch of my killer carrot and potato soup.


Looking good.

And then one more batch of carrots.

The last batch.

The last batch.

After all that, about 5 pounds were left.  Now that we can handle.


On My Mind – Old Folks

Filed under: Old Folks — heidi @ 8:36 pm

When people ask me what I do, I say, “I’m a psychologist.” Their eyes grow bigger. They’re curious. Some step forward a bit, lower their voice to a whisper.

“Are you analyzing me?”


“Where’s your office?”

“I don’t have an office. I work in nursing homes. I work with old people.”

They step back. Their eyes grow small, suspicious. “Why?”

Because old people are wonderful. If ever there was a segment of society that western culture has swept under the rug, it’s old folks. They’re the mess we don’t want guests to see when they come to dinner, so we hurry them to the broom closet. Not literally, of course! But we do marginalize them.

The way our world runs these days, (or, more accurately, limps along) it’s almost impossible not to. Everything is technical. Don’t even bother trying to master that, sweetie – the new version comes out Tuesday. There are no more checkout girls, hon, it’s all do-it-yourself scanning. Lovely, no? Want to get from point A to point B? So drive there! This? I ordered it at

Much of our world is closed to old folks. They may be unaccustomed to or fearful of our current ways. Their dexterity, reflexes, eyesight or hearing may be lacking, or the neurons in their brains aren’t connecting as rapidly or as efficiently as they used to. They move slower, they think slower. They take their time. They contemplate. And today’s world, it seems to me, has no patience for contemplation. No patience for dilly-dallying. Yell your order into the intercom, hurry up and drive through, grab a bag of processed God-knows-what. Eat, pay get out. The light’s green already, lady. Move it!

It saddens me. Not only for them, for us. We’re missing so much.

When I walk into a nursing home, I don’t just see illness, loneliness, or fear. I also see faint smiles that widen in response to mine. I hear a wealth of wisdom and experience. It is a pleasure to listen to their tales, to travel with them back into various parts of their lives, to enter their worlds, to relive yesterday.

I’ve learned about the Great Depression. What it felt like. What people did to stay warm, to eat, to survive.  I’ve heard spine-tingling, edge-of-your-seat tales about wars. Crawling through trenches, parachuting from airplanes, opening the gates of concentration camps – or walking out of them. I have the privilege of hearing, of seeing, of knowing these worlds. I also learn about cooking, canning, childbirth. I travel back in time, to places that are no longer there, that everyone’s forgotten. I share in the richest of experiences, I hear tales that no book will tell me, no television will show. 

Even those who suffer from dementia have something to offer. Perhaps they can’t recall what day it is, or where their room is, or what you told them two minutes ago. But they can tell you about their childhood, their pets, their siblings, their lives. They can share their thrills, their disasters, their laughter, their tears.

And those who’ve lost remote memories? Those who wonder where they are; why the street car hasn’t come yet; if it’s day or night, what that talking box with the colorful pictures could possibly be?  You offer them a smile, or a reassuring word, or simply sit in silence and hold their hand. And for a moment, they are calm, content. The corners of their lips curl up. They sit back. Their breathing slows. And you feel so very wonderful, because you know you helped. Only for a moment – but what a wonderful moment it was.

The next time you are in a nursing home, please look past the wheel chairs and the nodding grey heads and the blank stares. Please take the time to get to know someone. Someone wrinkled and slow, someone with white hair and dentures – and a world of experience, wisdom and love the likes of which you may otherwise never know.